Start Thinking Beyond Exercise

MOVEMENT is a lifestyle choice. Exercise is just a thing you do.

At the foundation of addressing one’s physical health is discovering that there is a difference between movement and exercise and what that difference is. It’s when I started to understand this difference that my entire lifestyle shifted.

Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA, (I highly recommend), writes:

“The first step to radically improving your health is to let go of the notion that movement is exercise. To move your health forward with movement, it is essential to mentally rearrange the relationship between movement and exercise in your mind.”

What do you think of when you think of exercise? Maybe thoughts/words like these? cardio, sweat, gym, tennishoes, but my knees hurt, squats, 30-minutes-3-times-a-week, weight loss, heart health, I hate everything related to it, life’s worst necessary evil, elliptical, I already do this everyday . . . next!, exertion, etc. What if I told you that exercise is really just one piece of a pie? That the key to health was to access more of the whole pie and that it might be easier to access more of the pie than just the one slice of exercise???

Exercise is a type of movement. I feel that Katy’s illustrations here really say it all:

Do you see? Movement is everything else other than exercise in your everyday life!

Here’s the thing: exercise has been sold to us as the way to stay healthy but two of the biggest factors that keep exercise from being the solve-all-your-health-problems pill are these two:

  1. Exercise is limited in time. Exercise is an activity that you do while movement is the way that you live. Exercise is done for an hour, maybe two, at a time. More than that, you’re a “gym rat” or a “crazy runner.” It’s finite: you begin and you end, and then on to the next part of the day. Movement is something you should be doing throughout your day every single day. Science is evolving to reflect this way of thinking: that t’s not the lack of exercise that’s the problem with our health, it’s the not moving that’s truly the issue, aka sitting a whole damn lot. It’s so bad that the scientific community refers to the “Sitting Disease” when talking about a sedentary lifestyle. This means that if you exercise an hour a day Monday through Friday, but you’re still sitting from 9am to 4pm those same days . . . well . . . it’s great that you exercise, but it’s not quite enough. Studies have shown that regardless of exercise, hours spent sitting are directly proportional to an increased mortality rate. Think of it like this: If you eat burgers and pizza and breakfast sandwiches all day every day but throw in a kale salad at lunch, your nutrition diet is all set. Ummm, nope. Exercise is not enough.

  2. Exercise is specific. In general, you’re either a runner, a weight lifter, a cyclist, a yogi, marital artist, or maybe a combination of a couple of those things. We gravitate toward a few types of exercise and we do them over and over again. The variety of movement that’s available to our human bodies is infinite yet we’ve selected a very finite few types of movement to call exercise. These finite selections move our joints and muscles and the rest of our tissues in certain ways. This is good. But what about all the other ways??? Even if you exercise every single day, you’re still only moving your body in very specific ways which means your tissues adhere instead of slide (this goes into a deep fascia topic that I won’t get into here—but the long short of it is that you want your layers of tissue to slide along one another smoothly and fluidly. When they don’t experience variance in direction, speed, and load, they begin to adhere, aka “sticky spot” feeling). The more varied we can move, the more various types of load we expose our joints, muscles, and tissues to, the more our brains have to work to accommodate these new movements, the better our brain is at learning even more new movements, the more hydrated and slippery our tissues are, the better we age. Think of it like this: If you say you eat a ton of vegetables, but the only vegetable you ever eat is broccoli, are you really eating healthy? Even if you’re eating 10 servings of broccoli a day? Not quite. Just like food, our bodies and brains NEED as much variety as possible. Exercise is not enough.

Ok, so what can you do?
take the stairs instead of the escalator
leave the house early so you can walk instead of take the train (or walk to the station 2 stops away from you)
try new things (if you only run, try yoga; if you only do yoga, try weight lifting; if you only weight lift, try pilates.)
try non traditional gym disciplines (martial arts, parkour, feldenkrais, gymnastics)
dance!! in your living room and on your bed and skip on your way to your car!
stretch in the morning while making your coffee/tea
try movements with the non-dominant side of your body (put on your coat with your opposite arm first, brush your teeth with the other hand)
sit on the floor when watching TV (notice how it forces you to change positions all the time).

As far as being at the office, I have a whole workshop I give just about that: how to move throughout your workday at the office!

It seems daunting, but once it becomes a way of thinking, you begin to see thousands of opportunities to move, and thousands of different ways to move every single moment of the day that you’re awake. When you’ve taken the first small steps to move more, it’s essential to make sure you’re moving well. If you decide to start walking miles a day but have poor gait mechanics, you can bet something is going to feel wonky. If you start to lift weights with bad form, you will feel it in the joints. If you’ve never taken parkour but you want to try, you want to make sure your knees and feet and wrists are strong enough to accommodate the new activity. So, work with a movement coach or a knowledgeable personal trainer to get the basics down-pat so that movement becomes a lasting lifestyle choice.